Someone told me recently that I am really mean to myself.
It might have even been me.
I read a Khalil Gibran quote yesterday, he said,
“God told me to love my enemy, and I obeyed and loved myself.”
I still don’t understand what that means. I made it to 31 years of age with never really grasping that concept. I want to love myself, I think everyone does, I just am at a loss. I decided to try and list off my accomplishments and positive attributes so I could see what others do, but everything that appears across the page does so in slashes and tears. It all sounds so contrived. Who cares what I have accomplished? What am I accomplishing? Am I good and true now? How have I left the last moment better than the one before? Can I go back to when I was free of responsibilities and silver streaks? I’m not sure that I want to.
I know what I have done, who I have been. These answers are far less interesting than the life that was happening within them.
I interviewed for a job yesterday, in Austin no less, and didn’t think once about how I looked. And I wonder if that is what it is like for average people. I miss the confidence of youth. The utter fearlessness and freedom. It’s like a drug. Ok, ok, I am trying to be honest here. It’s crazy, the things I have done, I know that. I don’t even believe half of it, and I was there. I know that you might think going from homeless to stable is a major feat. The secret is, the accomplishment lies in the shift of taking care of yourself and not waiting for someone else to do it. That’s how you grow, that’s how you become better, in whatever you wish.
I still don’t know how to do it. I went from my mom’s house to the street, bridges to a tool shed. But mostly, I relied on the world, and the world provided me with many a couch. Many a safe space to lay me down to sleep. Some would say I am charmed with the amount of kindness the world bestowed upon me, and it mostly came in the form of other people taking care of me. So here I arrive in a space where I am taking care of myself and I stumble upon this awful truth, that I don’t really love myself very much. Let me tell you, the difficulties that lie in taking care of something you don’t love are immense.
So I look to Gibran’s words and they shake something deep in me, in a space I don’t often acknowledge, and for years has seemed content to curl lazily in the depths.
The wine is flowing, so I am switching gears here, but we’ll get back to loving oneself, it’s an inevitability. That job I interviewed for? I got it, I start on Monday. I’m really excited, it’s a place where I will have to work to be the best, and I need that. I’m very competitive.
It blows my mind, some moments, when I look around my home and see the evidence of my years displayed in rows on the shelves. This place is something I have earned. Something I deserve.
I was so afraid, when I was homeless, that the chasm between then and now was insurmountable. I was terrified that having stability would rob me of my personage. Frankly, I was afraid I would fail at doing for myself in any way that wasn’t base survival. I know survival, I lived and breathed it for most of my life.
I don’t survive anymore, I live. I work. I drink. I can decide, at 11:30 on a Thursday night, I want to buy a bottle of wine and listen to some of my 28 gigs of music, and spend an evening musing across my keyboard. I mean. What a life.
I’m a far cry from the young woman who spent many a Thursday night hosting an open mic for the various miscreants from the depths of Austin and its early-aughts, angsty subculture. It was amazing. Man, I actually miss that scene. I loved those cats, and the inspiration their wealth of experience wrought in my soul. I also very much appreciated the arms of Austin that welcomed and protected me.
I didn’t want to be changed. It took me 22 years to be ok with the person that I am, 22 years of hating myself and thinking I was unlovable because people always go away and I am too loud, too abrasive, have too many ideas that are unconventional. I thought the only way to be real, to be a true person was to survive, because when one is surviving, one has very little time to devote to being something other than they are.
That’s what I told myself anyhow. My truth turned out to be very different than that, however. It seems you expend a ton of energy being everything to everyone, and you can rarely be successful at it. Hey, maybe that is one of my “positive attributes.” It seems I am quite successful at being what people need when they need it. Maybe I am so fond of that time in my life because I didn’t have to worry about being anything for myself. My survival depended on being for others.
Now I have learned to take care of myself, and I have learned when that looks like letting other people help. I have worked hard and been successful, my therapist often makes (too much of) a big deal about my accomplishments, how I am so awesome, and all this stuff. And it’s nice I guess, but I don’t think being kind and wanting the world – even the tiny piece I occupy – to be better makes for a very big accomplishment. That’s like Chris Rock’s whole thing about how you’re supposed to take care of your kids, that doesn’t make you a good father. We need to be kind, we won’t survive this world without each other.
I should mention I am often called the tangent queen. Though I suspect you may have already figured that out.
I remember moving into my shed. It was amazing. I was moving in with some people who turned out to be family, though I didn’t know it at the time. Mikey and Alex spent a week, putting in carpet, air conditioning, a sink, a fridge, they even painted it blue and green, my favorite colors. I moved in with a hiking pack, filled with clothes and two books. I was going to be a nanny for Mikey and Lisa, well, for their son, Jesse. I moved in on Jesse’s 5th birthday. I had a home. It was so small, no windows, all mine. I was so happy.
One of my favorite memories happened in that time in my life. I went to Art Outside, a festival for the lovers of the world, at the Enchanted Forrest. It was such a beautiful night. They had a fence running along the back of the property, snug against the rail road track, with trees arching over walkways and free expression happening everywhere you turned. They hung sheets along the chain link fence and running its length they had out cans of latex wall paint so that folks could create, could fill in blank spaces with beauty and light. It was magical. I ran into my friend Hopper, and we had an all out paint war. We hadn’t seen each other in months. I had an outstanding disappearing act that surfaced when I went from homeless to housie. We ran and chased each other, ribbons of green and white shooting across the sky (and showering my waist length hair.) I had originally attended this event with my friends Paige and Ryan to see an outside showing of the Vagina Monologues read by female Veterans at an event to raise money for Military Sexual Assault Awareness. I wound up separated from my friends and wrapped up in a paint war with an old compadre, this is literally just what life was like for me. Paige and Ryan eventually caught up with me and got me safely home, albeit covered head to toe in paint.
Alex is my best friend, it should be noted. There is a long history there, and I am not sure this particular device has the memory for me to go into it here. He also lived across the street from Mikey and Lisa (and me in the shed in the back yard.) So I get home from this event at like one in the morning and as we pull in, Alex is heading home from Mikey’s house, so of course I hop out and ask for help getting this paint out of my hair. We go to my shed, smoke a bowl, and Alex proceeds to spend 4 hours, in the middle of the night, picking paint specks from each individual strand of my hair. You’ll remember that it was waist-length. It was such an awesome moment in time, the quiet lull of his voice and the soft pull of my hair, I was near to asleep. In my own space, that I had earned.
From there I had places to call home more often than not, until one day, I moved in with a couple of good friends and have never had to worry about home again. That is something I have done, but without the love and support of the people who call me friend, well, I shudder to think.
Another night, another bottle of wine, and we will find ourselves back to loving oneself. I won’t find that answer in a sitting, maybe over years it will become apparent, until then, I will find myself uncorked and breathing.
1 thought on “some thoughts on loving oneself, or, how i got drunk on a thursday night in october”
When you and I met, and fell in love with each other as poets and people, I think it was because our authenticity was in our poetry, and that authenticity allowed us to really see each other.
We might say of each other, ‘She’s this or she’s that, she has these qualities’ etc. etc., and that would all be true, but it’s not that which causes the love. It’s who you are, who I am, that indefinable and specific essence that makes you you and me me. So I think that looking for the qualities which people tell you that you have — even though you do have them — is probably not where it’s at.
Where IS it at? Not sure I know. But I sometimes think one could substitute the word ‘respect’ for this ‘love’ we all go on about, and it maybe comes closer to the mark. Hard to actively love all other human beings, at least in the way we think of love and imagine it to be, but maybe it’s enough to give other people respect and kindness. Maybe that’s what ‘unconditional love’ really is. And maybe if you can give those things to yourself, just because you are a human being and all human beings deserve and need them, that will be sufficient for self-love.